LESSONS OF LE MANS
AFTER-THOUGHTS OF THE GREAT FRENCH 24-HOUR RACE
The 1937 Le Mans race will be remembered vividly for many things : for the magnificent performances by the winning cars and for its disastrous multiple crash which cost the lives of two drivers. Of the two who died in this terrible crash, one, the Frenchman Kieppurt, was a newcomer to racing, and perhaps it was this very fact, more than any other, which led to the accident. At first sight one would be inclined to deduce from this the advisability of some form of qualification for big events such as Le Mans, but second thoughts make one realise the difficulty of drawing a hard and fast line between experience and inexperience. On the other hand, we have noticed in the past that completely unknown British drivers, who would almost certainly be barred from the T.T. for
example, appear to be able to enter and drive at Le Mans without any difficulty. By this, we do not necessarily mean that they are a menace to other drivers-but a potential menace they certainly are. The same “ease of entry, ” so to speak, presumably applies to French drivers.
It is this large number of inexperienced drivers which, in our opinion, detracts considerably from the importance of Le Mans. Attempts are made in certain quarters to exaggerate the standing of the race out of all proportion to its real status, which is that of an endurance test of the competing cars. Apart from that, Le Mans is chiefly notable as a favourite race for beginners to become acquainted with the sport of motor-racing. Fairfield’s death is a tremendous blow for British motor-racing. He had a natural flair for cornering, and thoroughly deserved the many victories which came his way. Added to this, he had a personality, a disposition, which made him universally popular. In view of his splendid driving ability, it is all the more tragic that he should have met his death through no fault of his own. For tune certainly did not favour him that day,
otherwise he would have shared the escapes of Ralph, Roth, Forestier and Tremoulet. The six-car crash was particularly unfortunate for the Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. team, for although Roth was running as a B.M.W., it meant that two out of the three cars emanating from the German
factory were eliminated in one fell swoop. Later, of course, Aldington and Fane had to retire, so altogether it was not a B.M.W. day. Everyone was glad that the Grand Prix d’Endurance went to Bugatti-and France. It was the first time a French car had won since the Lorraine pulled it off in 1926. In spite of a long series of foreign successes, the A.C. de l’Ouest have not lost heart-as the A.C.F. did veth the French Grand Prix-and their perseverance has at last been rewarded with a magnificent victory by a French car. The Le Mans circuit is not an
exacting one for drivers, but Benoist and Wimille put up a masterly performance, all the same. It was a pity that Sommer’s Alfa-Romeo went out so soon. This was the only car really capable of giving the Bugatti a run. The Delahayes went well, but were outpaced, and the best of them could not get within sixty miles of the Bugattiin spite of the latter’s eleven-minute stop in the middle of the night to put the car back on the road after a skid. The solitary Delage finished an excellent fourth, averaging 75.2 m.p.h., and scrapping hard with the Delahayes all the way. The 2-litre Aston-Martin
driven by Skeffington and MurtonNeale was a worthy fifth, which was really good for a private entry. The Peugeots ran like clockwork, thereby proving the ability of the Cotal gearbox to stand up to prolonged high speed, and the Adler saloons looked as though they could keep it up for weeks on end, so quiet and reliable they were.
The veteran Aston-Martin driven by Morris-Good all and Hitchins covered itself with glory in winning the RudgeWhitworth Cup and finishing eleventh in the general classification. Miss Turner and Miss Riddell, too, are to be congratulated on driving a steady race with the little M.G., and they very nearly snatched the Cup from the Aston.
Finally, the Ford ” Ten” and the H.R.G. both finished at a good speed, although the latter was making the most incredible noises and was obviously in a distressed state.
Interest in the race slumped considerably on the Sunday. Whether it was due to the shadow of the six-car crash, or to the large number of retirements, it is certain that there was a distinct spirit of disillusionment about the proceedings. On top of it all came the lingering tactics adopted by certain competitors who were sure of their places and simply wanted to waste time and avoid running the risk of havingmechanical trouble. If it had not been for the determined driving of the Delahayes in the closing stages one would hardly have realised that there was a race on !